Alvarez waves are local rhythmic contractions of the myometrium with high frequency and low intensity. They can be detected using internal or external tocography and electrohysterography. Some researchers correlate these small contractions with the initiation of labor, since they have been described as a pattern representing the uterine response to prostaglandin production. Other authors either do not validate a causality relation between Alvarez waves and labor or suggest that they have low predictive value for preterm labor. Alvarez waves’ research has become a multidisciplinary subject with inputs ranging from medical science, biomedical engineering, and related areas. A comprehensive review is herein conducted to summarize the state of the art regarding Alvarez waves and their role in the initiation of labor, namely in preterm birth. The results show that a large number of studies have analyzed and characterized Alvarez waves without necessarily digging into their relationship with labor. Publications were categorized in three groups: (A) reports about morphology and characterization of Alvarez waves; (B) publications reporting a positive causality relation between Alvarez waves and labor; and (C) publications reporting an absence of causality regarding the previous hypothesis. Studies in group B outnumbered those in group C. A critical analysis is presented.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)563-574
JournalBiophysical Reviews
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • Alvarez waves
  • Electrohysterography
  • Preterm and term labor
  • Uterine biophysics
  • Uterine electromyography


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